HOW TWO LAME DUCK LAWMAKERS BLOCKED A MASSIVE PROPERTY TAX RELIEF PLAN DURING THE SPECIAL SESSION
By Fred Birnbaum
The special legislative session came and went in a single day with seemingly one option, House Bill 1. State lawmakers passed the measure, which provided a small $161 million tax cut, a larger $500 million tax rebate, and an unnecessary addition of $410 million for education funding.
We deem the tax cut as small because Idaho possesses a $2 billion budget surplus.
What is sad is that virtually every legislator will say that residents would prefer property tax relief over additional income tax cuts.
There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that Gov. Brad Little has proposed, and the Legislature approved two rounds of income tax cuts the last two sessions, not including the additional tax cut just passed in the special session. With a $2 billion surplus, Idaho had a historic opportunity to begin the process of completely reforming the entire property tax system. And maybe, just maybe, Idaho could have become a property tax sanctuary state.
The opportunity was there thanks in large part to the work of Rep. Judy Boyle from Midvale.
Boyle had a bill draft that would have maintained the governor’s modest income tax cut, jettisoned the non-related education spending, and substituted a major property tax rebate for the income tax rebate. It would have provided a one-time property tax holiday for all categories of property taxpayers for the December 2022 property tax bill. The existing surplus would have been used to cover the property taxes normally collected by every taxing district. The taxes due from each taxpayer would have been zero dollars for their December 2022 payment. It would’ve been a $1.1 billion one-time property tax rebate.
But Boyle’s plan was never given consideration before the taxation committees.
When Little issued his special proclamation on August 23, he provided just one bill draft, with his set of ideas: a tax cut and an education money bomb. He aimed for a political victory, but not a review of the best policy ideas.
Before the draft bill was released to the public near the end of August, the governor had secured the sponsorship of the majority of both bodies of the Legislature, 7 out of 8 members of legislative leadership, and the chairmen of the House and Senate tax committees. With so many key members locked down before any public review, testimony, or even alternatives, you can be sure that we didn’t get the best tax policy, just the one the governor wanted.
There were other bill drafts, like one cutting the sales tax from 6% to 5%, or another that would’ve lowered the income tax to 5%. But again, these ideas never were allowed to be put before the public.
If you, like many Idahoans, wonder why we can’t get property tax relief, the answer is simple: It is not the priority of the governor or legislative leadership.
However, despite the opposition of leadership, the Chairman of House Revenue and Taxation, Steve Harris, and his Senate counterpart, Senator Jim Rice, had an opportunity to hear these other bills. They simply refused to.
They didn’t have to vote for them to give them a hearing. Many chairmen hear bills that they don’t ultimately vote for. But what would you have preferred from the Extraordinary Session: A $500 million income tax rebate or a $1.1 billion property tax rebate?
My guess is that virtually everyone — certainly every homeowner, commercial property owner, farmer, and so on — would have preferred the latter. But it is too bad we have to guess, because we could have had the discussion if we had key legislators who actually listen to their constituents.